BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of Kuwaitis, both Sunnis and Shiites, marched Saturday in a funeral procession for the 27 victims of a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque during communal prayers the day before, an attacked claimed by the jihadists of the Islamic State group.
The Kuwaiti authorities were questioning a number of people to determine whether they were connected to the plot, and the Interior Ministry said in a statement that the police had found the car used to drop off the bomber and had arrested its owner.
Kuwait did not name the bomber, nor did it give his nationality. In a statement posted online claiming responsibility for the attack, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, identified him as Abu Sulaiman al-Muwahhad, a nom de guerre that does not indicate where he was from.
In the statement, the Islamic State said the mosque was attacked because it sought to spread Shiite thought, which the Sunni jihadists consider apostasy.
Friday’s terrorist attack was the first in Kuwait, a small, wealthy oil exporter, in more than two decades and jolted a nation that has long prided itself for having better relations between its Sunni and Shiite citizens than do its Persian Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Shiites make up about one-third of Kuwait’s citizens, and many serve alongside Sunnis in the government and security services.
“It was a shock to everybody,” said Meshari Alhomoud, an Sunni engineer in Kuwait City who had attended the funeral on Saturday with a Shiite friend. “We know about the events in Iraq and Syria — they are not far away — but we felt that we were safe in Kuwait, and the government was in denial that this could happen.”
Sami al-Faraj, the director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, said that both Sunni and Shiite extremists have long wanted to stir sectarian discord in Kuwait specifically because relations were generally good.
“It is a tough nut to crack, but many would always like to try,” he said, adding that the rise of the Islamic State had added a new danger because the group called on sympathizers to act without the support of the central organization.
Mr. Faraj said that the Islamic State’s message was: “Exercise jihad. We don’t need you here, you are better equipped than us to do it in your country.”
But others said that sectarian overtones had been creeping into the public discourse for years. Kuwait has the most open political system of the Persian Gulf monarchies, and some politicians have begun using sectarian language to appeal to conservative constituents.
Kuwait’s combination of religiosity and high personal income have also made it a world center for Islamic fund-raising, and some of the money has made its way to extremist groups in Syria and elsewhere. American officials have repeatedly called on Kuwait to do more to monitor the funds leaving its banks.
Friday’s bombing resembled recent attacks on Shiite mosques in eastern Saudi Arabia that were also claimed by the Islamic State, leading many to believe that the group sought to set off a sectarian war.
But the attack appeared to draw Kuwaitis together. Thousands marched through Kuwait City on Saturday, waving Kuwaiti flags and chanting, “Sunnis and Shiites are brothers!”
And on Friday, the country’s emir, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a Sunni, visited the attack site after the bombing, meeting wounded worshipers with little security.
The government announced that the Grand State Mosque in Kuwait City, a Sunni house of worship, would be open for condolences, even though all of the victims were Shiites.
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(via NY Times)